Jon Rosner, Fri, 16 Jul 2004 08:00:00 PDT
The ride up into Sonoma to visit Rich Kamp at Golden Gate Sevens (gg7s.com) did not look promising, the sky was gray and threatening and it was a Friday, which meant potential bumper to bumper traffic, surely not the best weather for testing a featherweight road rocket.
The sleek electric blue Caterham sat there with it's three inch tall wind deflector, huge four to one pipe protruding from the left, tall spindly gray rims with standard street tires, with plain black seats set off by well placed and clear gauges in the carbon fiber dash. It looked just right.
The engine started right up with the delicious thrum of an engine that likes to rev. The five speed showed five inch snicks between the close ratio gears. As the rain droplets began to fall, I quickly put on my helmet, switched on full lights and put a light touch to the throttle. It was now showering lightly. Just for self-assurance testing was needed, a little tapping of the brakes yielded a quick bite, smooth, even deceleration and a bit more confidence that it was not a completely idiotic idea to drive this Seven in the wet.
The road south was mounted on a levee and there were few trees to break the strong winds coming off the Bay. At 55 mph, while big trucks swayed noticeably the Seven was solidly planted without a hint of twitchiness even across the highly exposed multi-mile expressway bridges. Fifth gear translated to 55 to 60 mph at just around 2,000 RPM, and was perfectly fine for no-downshift off-ramp speeds. In fact the engine was quite docile and tractable piddling around at down to 1,200 in fifth, and surprise, the car pulled smartly with any input, nice torque ! The ride was also peacefully soft but tight and the seating position was comfortable in spite of the thin padding.
Once back into the East Bay the rain stopped and a few blips of the throttle revealed bags of torque and a willingness to keep going quite a bit farther than the driver deemed prudent on the street. With an ear to ear grin still plastered across face I collected my neighbor Dale who is six foot and maybe 175 lbs. Two up, back to the freeway, the acceleration had my sight blurring before passing half throttle and backing off.
Compared to the older Lotus Sevens, and some of the older copies, this puppy is incredibly refined and well behaved, while not losing one bit of the surgeon's scalpel handling and astounding acceleration. It was never twitchy at triple digits and yet it was supple over railroad crossings and tenacious on crappy roads. At 1,200 lbs with 190 horses and 150 lbs of torque, 60 mph takes a bit over 4 seconds. Compare that to the average German, Italian, English and American Sports Car at in excess of 3,000 lbs. With most like the M3, pushing 3,500 lbs and there is no more need to explain why the Seven is so very far beyond expectations.
What are the alternatives to a Seven? Retired military jet, ex-F1 race car, two superbikes and some Elmer's glue? The base Caterham starts at $23,000.00 (engine and tranny are approx. $1g for the SVT at your local bone yard.) Sure, this one had lots of extra goodies pushing it closer to $30,000.00, all built, but of the choices for the same level of performance are horrendously more expensive.
Lotus started building Sevens in 1957 with Caterham taking over in early 1970s, and the result is simply astounding to drive. With the modern technology and parts combined with simple and elegant engineering even a third rate mechanic like your author could maintain one of these little beasties. For those of you who don't need any more encouragement, (and you know who you are !) visit gg7s.com or call Golden Gate Sevens at 707.933.8039 and ask Rich Kamp for a test drive, the ear to ear grins are free and last a long time.